Earthrise changed everything.
The title The Visioneers by W. Patrick McCray is a portmanteau of ‘vision’ and ‘engineer’ created by the author. The title intrigued me and so did the word. The idea is basically the technological advancement of someone’s vision. I immediately saw how this notion applies to CyberEnglish. CE was the engineering of an educational vision to make education better and more efficient through good and better use of technology. My Limits to Growth was misguided US educational policy borne from A Nation at Risk and the eventual reliance on tests and not to product and technology.
Suggesting man put limits on his endeavors stopped the world. Considering how technology had gotten us to where we are and where we wanted to go, limits was a real downer, bummer, show stopper. Moderation, compromise and such became catchword ideas. Ecological considerations needed to be addressed in a more serious manner and Rachel Carson provided that. OPEC provided that. The major rivers of the world showed us the errors of our ways. As man’s life expectancy was growing, scarcity of land and food was a serious issue for the future. Man was living longer because of the technological advances I medicine, growing food, and creating livable spaces. Outsourcing helped corporations but not America and now we slowly see a return of those jobs. Spaceship Earth, The Biosphere, and 19th Century Science Fiction became realities in the middle of the 20th Century that foretold disaster for the 21st Century. Disaster on a huge economic level. The science fiction ideas of space colonies have become campaign slogans for 21st Century politicians. Technology is a double-edged sword.
Gerard Kitchen O’Neill was a scientist, a physics teacher, who taught at Princeton. He came up with the idea of a space platform, a space floating earth. While trying to realize his goals, he decided to make his work public in 1972, which coincided with the publication of Limits of Growth. The only way O’Neill could go public was to publish in the existing media of the day, science journals. It took him a few years to finally publish his work for peer review. The process was troubling as the reviewers of his article were unable to truly understand his concepts and after many revisions he got published, not on his terms but on other reviewer’s terms. That just ain’t right. The beauty of CyberEnglish is that each of my scholars can publish their work, engage in peer review, and then pass it n for others to read and use accordingly. CE exists because of the technology and medium and the World Wide Web. The difference between O’Neill’s work and my scholars’ work is my scholars’ work is not compromised so that it can be published. We are seeing it happen right in front of us as technology by the people is overshadowing the older traditional medias, because the old is compromised by owners, publishers, people with a political and economic agenda and are one way media; unlike the Internet which is interactive and democratic. Sure Internet writers have a political agenda, but the conversation between reader and writer is more extensive and possible whereas it is not interactive with old traditional forms of media. We merely need to look at the Arab Spring and compare it to The Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe during the Soviet era, WWII, WWI, the French Revolution, the American Revolution. Consider the differences between the Drudges of today and the one and only Thomas Paine.
O’Neill ran into the same wall that most innovators and visionaries encounter. He did not propose that his space station would be a panacea for earthly problems merely “an opportunity to ameliorate social, environmental, and economic anxieties.”(p 69) Just as CE is not a panacea for educational woes, it is simply a way to provide another way to evaluate the scholars in our schools. There is always that careful balancing act between the old ways and utopia. The possibility of the future is unfortunately always projected through a lens of what we know as opposed to a lens of what could be. In education we still teach the way we were taught instead of the way we should be taught. O’Neill, too, ran into this problem in his field. His success gets beyond him. As a result of the published article a group called L5 form in Arizona. They distributed newsletters and tried to behave as any Internet based group would, but in a pre-Internet time. The problem for O’Neill was that the conversations about his ideas were out of his hands and he wasn’t part of the conversations being had by Stewart Brand, Timothy Leary, and others. O’Neill inspired others but had no input as to how they behaved or what they said. Were this to have happened in the Internet world, well we al know how much better it would have gone. This is all happening a few years after Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog success and a decade before his much acclaimed creation of The Well, of which I was an early member. On The Well, O’Neill would have enjoyed a very public and spirited discussion on a list or in a conference. We have seen how Internet technology has sparked better communication and more democratic conversations.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the ecological advantages to O’Neill’s space station ideas. It would be pure solar energy. Any pollution generated would be jettisoned to the sun for disposal. There are so many advantages to manufacturing in space. CE also offers ecological advantages as no need for paper, everything is digital. Digits travel better than atoms, take up less space than atoms, and can be shared more quickly and efficiently than atoms. O’Neill ran into his problems because of the atoms. If only he had access to the digits.
When Omni magazine emerged, O’Neill became a regular contributor. His book, The High Frontier and these articles kept the ideas alive, but in 1985, O’Neill was diagnosed with leukemia. In addition, with the election of Reagan, space stations for living became military, weapon dispensers as in the Death Star in Star Wars. It is amazing how many ideas go through the military before reaching the citizens. Heck the Internet was a military idea called ARPANET.
With waning of space programs, nanotechnology emerged. The aspect of passing it on for O’Neill was in the person of Kim Eric Drexler, an MIT student who did some work with O’Neill and embraced O’Neill’s ideas and those of L5 too. Drexler’s Engines of Creation will lead him to Nanotechnology.
Publishing as a visioneer ain’t easy as these two can attest. The key is that these two made their work public, engaged in critical if not cruel peer review, and most importantly passed it on. They passed on their vision realized to a degree that served as inspiration for others who followed and took it one more step. That is what scholarship is all about and a foundation for CyberEnglish.